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OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Liberal Party signaled on Friday it would not try to topple the minority Conservative government, despite Prime Minister Stephen Harper's unpopular decision to have Parliament suspended until early March.
"You can't have an election each and every time you have difficulty in Parliament," Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff said as he slammed Harper's decision to delay Parliament's return from the Christmas break to March 3 from January 25.
The opposition parties tried to bring the government down in October, just a year after the last election, but this provoked a backlash from voters that set the Liberals back in opinion polls. Ignatieff says he got the message.
"Canadians want Parliament to work -- as they clearly stated to me in the fall, 'We don't want an election,' and I listened to that," he said.
Because they hold only a minority of the 308 seats in the House of Commons, the Conservatives need the support of at least one opposition party to remain in power.
The Liberals are still several points behind the Conservatives in public opinion polls, but the gap has narrowed in the wake of Harper's decision to suspend Parliament.
The suspension, known as prorogation, is constitutionally allowed and has been done more than 100 times in Canadian history, but this time it has drawn fierce criticism from the opposition and from editorialists.
A Facebook group "Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament" has drawn more than 100,000 members, and demonstrations are planned for January 23.
Harper argues that a new policy speech to open the new session of Parliament will enable the government to shift focus from surviving the recession to moving into economic growth.
He told a news conference in New Brunswick on Friday that governments in Canada and abroad also need to start thinking about exit strategies to wind down huge stimulus programs and move back toward balanced budgets.
"Governments throughout the world and here in Canada must reduce their deficits," he said.
Another rationale for the suspension was that in the second half of February all of Canada's attention will be focused on the Vancouver Winter Olympics.
But Ignatieff says Harper shut down Parliament to avoid criticism of government policy, especially the treatment of Afghan prisoners who were turned over to Afghan authorities by the Canadian military in 2006 and 2007.
"Every time this guy's in a hole, he tries to shut down institutions that control his power," Ignatieff said, speaking to reporters outside the House of Commons. "We think this is a crazy way to run a democracy."
Editing by Peter Galloway and Rob Wilson